Cannabis company tried to intimidate employees interested in union

| Staff

Alberta’s labour relations board has found that Calgary-based Sundial Growers attempted to intimidate employees attending a union information session.

Teamsters Local Union 987 brought the complaint after two managers with the cannabis producer attended an information session at a public library in Olds, Alberta, in July 2022. 

The union was providing information to employees. The board agreed with the union’s complaint that Alan Corrales, Scheduling Manager at the Sundial facility in Olds, and Latifa Dewji, Operations Manager for Extraction, Label & Excise, and Packaging & Processing at the Olds facility, visited the meeting for the purpose of interference or intimidation. 

“The actions of Mr Corrales and Ms Dewji have the natural impact of making employees reticent to engage with the Union given the Employer’s apparent interest in who might do so,” writes Jeremy D. Schick, Vice-Chair in the board’s ruling. Indeed, the Board received evidence, which it accepts, of the actual chilling effect this event had on the Union’s organizing effort.” 

However, the board also ruled that the actions of the two managers were not at the direction of company ownership, but instead of their own volition. 

Preston Quintin, an organizer for the union, told the board that he had conversations with Sundial employees, leading him to set up the meeting at the Olds Public Library on July 13, 2022. A handful of employees attended. 

Quintin says one of the managers appeared outside the meeting, where they were recognized by one of the attending employees. As the manager in question attempted to enter the room, Quintin closed the door to prevent their entry and asked employees present to warn any other employees not to attend. 

Quintin then explained to the board that he had gone outside to see if the person was still in the parking lot. He testified that he noticed some people sitting in a vehicle right outside the door, and was confronted by one of the people in the vehicle after he took a picture of their licence plate.  

Corrales, the scheduling manager at the Sundial facility in Olds, admitted to trying to attend the meeting and to confronting Quintin when he took a picture of the car he was in. While Quintin characterized this as yelling, both Corrales and Dewji characterized the exchange of words as conversational. 

Although Sundial argued that the union was not yet representing its employees and that the two managers were free to attend the meeting, the board ruled that interrupting a meeting “intended for the purpose of organizing before it formally begins is as disruptive to organizing” and was in violation of the protections intended by the Labour Relations Code.

In their submission, the union asked the board to allow them access to Sundial employees for a mandatory meeting to address the managers’ previous intimidation tactics. 

Although Sundial opposed this request, the board ruled the company must provide the union access to its employees “for the purpose of engaging in a paid mandatory meeting of one hour’s length, with one meeting for each of the two shifts of the Employer,” and also required Sundial to post a copy of the board’s decision “on a bulletin board or bulletin boards to which employees have regular access sufficient to ensure that all employees will have access to the decision,” to remain posted for 14 days. 

Unions and cannabis in Canada

This is not the first interaction between unions and cannabis companies in Canada.

The union representing BC cannabis retail employees has slowly been gathering members since it became the first union to represent budtenders in Canada in 2020.

In April 2021, employees at the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club, an unlicensed medical dispensary, joined the union, and in June 2021, employees at two Trees Cannabis locations joined as well, as did employees at B Buds

The same year, workers at BC cannabis producer Potanicals Green Growers also voted to join the union. This was the first cannabis production facility to unionize in Canada. 

Employees at an Eggs Canna location in Vancouver voted to join the union in early 2022.

At the time, UFCW 1518 Secretary-Treasurer Johnson described cannabis store owners like Oana Cappellano, owner of Eggs, with three locations in BC,  as “profiteers.” Cappellano, who opened the first Eggs Canna as a “legacy” retailer in Vancouver in 2014, took offence at the accusation at the time. 

“We were very disheartened and concerned to see the union make statements such as ‘The workers want their pay, benefits, respect, and overall working conditions to reflect this high-level training,’ and ‘ultimately, they [the staff] want fairness,” wrote Cappellano in a press release.

She said she felt the union’s statements did not reflect the sentiments held by the majority of their staff.

“Further,” she added, “characterizing hard-working entrepreneurs as simply ‘profiteers’ creates a further division between unions and employers, with the employees being caught in the middle.”

The BC Budtender Union also says it is welcoming workers at Yaletown Cannabis Store in Vancouver to its ranks.

In August 2022, the BC General Employees Union launched a strike that shut down the province’s cannabis and alcohol distribution system, leaving cannabis stores with no access to new deliveries for weeks.

The SQDC, which manages cannabis sales in Quebec, has been dealing with an ongoing strike, which continues in 22 of their 90 branches. Although these branches are still open, they are operating at reduced hours and face picket line pressures. 

In June, members of a different union, the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN), voted to accept an agreement with the SQDC for increased wages, hours, and better working conditions.

The provincial organization is still negotiating with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents 28 of its 90 branches. In September, the Superior Court of Quebec issued an injunction to limit union “pressure tactics” against SQDC.

In 2020, a court ruled a BC cannabis company had unfairly penalized workers for trying to unionize. In September 2020, the union began organizing and soon applied to be certified for 17 employees at a Peachland, BC, operation. 

Then, on October 5, the company laid off nine employees at the same Peachland operation, citing “the Company’s financial circumstances.”  The union argued these employees were laid off for seeking to unionize. The court agreed. 

In 2016, UFCW tried to organize workers at a MedReleaf facility in Ontario, but the Ontario Labour Relations Board ruled the workers did not have the right to unionize. The union has appealed that ruling.